A Duke’s son leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father’s evil nemesis when they assassinate his father and free their desert world from the emperor’s rule.
‘Dune‘ is frankly an incoherent mess of a movie, an example of the type of sci-fi films that will lead to ignorant people declaring all science fiction ‘rubbish’ or ‘not for me’. Science fiction at its best builds on its context to address grander themes or a sense of adventure that wouldn’t be possible in our current reality, and some of the finest examples are films such as ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Moon’ or ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘, to name a few, that are as intelligent and as thrilling as any other genre. At its worst, science fiction can be overly complicated, introduce too many elements to keep track off and feature cheesy dialogue and terrible special effects. Unfortunately, ‘Dune‘ ticks all of the negative boxes and it’s just simply a bad movie.
So how did this mess come to be? David Lynch has since commented on his regrets at how the film turned out, and it was a critical and commercial failure (on a $42 million budget, expensive in the early 80’s). The film is based on a cult novel, and the biggest failing of the film is the inability of Lynch’s screenplay to focus on its key themes, introducing too many characters and spending too much time on exposition that still fails to make sense of the convoluted plot. Lynch amassed an impressive cast for this film, featuring a host of terrific character actors such as Brad Dourif and Max Von Sydow, but outwith Kyle MacLachlan’s hero, none of these actors are given strong enough material to work with as we jump from location to location, and minor character to minor character.
So, let’s talk about the special effects. I get that this is the early 80’s and that effects were not nearly as developed then as they are now, but then I think about the excellent work in ‘Alien‘, in ‘The Thing‘, and even in building the locations and the world of ‘Star Wars‘, and it’s difficult to cut ‘Dune‘ much slack. The sets are ugly and grim, the fight scenes boring and unclear, and the less said about the fallice shaped sandworms the better! There are a few positives with the film (albeit not many!). I enjoyed Kyle MacLachlan’s performance, and it’s clear to see why he became a regular collaborator on future endeavours, and some of the actors in smaller roles seem to grasp the ridiculousness of the material and ham it up accordingly. The soundtrack by the band ‘Toto’ (best known for the song ‘Africa’) is the standout and it’s a shame it didn’t feature in a film that merited the work that went into it.
Overall, this is a distinctly poor movie, a sprawling mess on just about every front, and a chore to get through. The positive I can take is that it’s ‘Blue Velvet’ up next, a film I’ve been itching to see for a long time before beginning this project!
Directed By: David Lynch
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Jose Ferrer, Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Virginia Madsen, Silvana Mangano, Everett McGill, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Nance, Sian Phillips, Jurgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max Von Sydow, Alicia Witt and Sean Young